Regarding the Infinity of Herbal Wisdom

Herbal mandala by the talented artist Danmala.

Herbal mandala by the talented artist Danmala.

One of the reasons I enjoy learning about edible and medicinal plants is that the subject is virtually inexhaustible. You can’t get bored, and you can’t master it. I have been reading about and using wild plants for over four years now, but I still often feel like a newb. It’s a classic case of “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

For example, say you’ve learned how to identify a given plant — but do you know what botanical family it belongs to, and what the shared characteristics of that family are? If so, then do you know if it is native or exotic? Do you know how it reproduces, and if it is annual or perennial? Perhaps you may know that its roots are antimicrobial, but do you know about its many other, less-publicized uses? Have you considered the perspective on that herb from Chinese medicine? Maybe you know you can eat the leaves of a common “weed,” but have you ever harvested its seeds? Maybe you know how to dry it and make a tea, but do you know its spirit properties, or how it is used as a flower essence?

Fortunately, the internet is proliferating with opportunities for ongoing learning. I’d like to share with you some of my favorite free ones:

* Here’s a free issue of Plant Healer, an online “journal” that comes out as a 100+ page PDF file put together by Kiva Rose, a respected herbalist in New Mexico. This issue features articles on wild food and herbalism by authors Susun Weed, Matthew Wood, and Samuel Thayer, among others. When you click that link, it will automatically begin downloading. It has the feel of a folksy zine to it.

* Kiva also has an excellent free in-depth materia medica on her website, Bear Medicine Herbals. Here is a great article she wrote on the Alder tree.

* Michael Tierra is the herbalist author of the classic book “The Way of Herbs” and he also runs the School of Planetary Herbology, which offers distance classes for both family and professional herbalists. He and his wife, Lesley Tierra, write very informative blog posts and articles that offer a cross-cultural, in-depth perspective on the use of herbs. Here’s one on differentiating “wind-chill” colds from “wind-heat” colds and the different herbs appropriate for each. You can sign up to get these e-mailed to you for free.

* Henriette’s Herbal is a website with a wealth of notes on individual herbs as well as some really neat old-timey articles she scans in, such as this one about lobelia from a book by R.L. Hool from 1922 called “Common Plants and Their Uses in Medicine.”

What websites do you recommend?

I also offer many opportunities for learning. Here are my upcoming classes:
* This Thursday, an Herbal Smoking Blends workshop. Make a blend for trance work, to quit smoking cigarettes, and more.
* Next Thursday, a guided meditation to meet the spirit of Western Red Cedar.
* On Sunday, March 10, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at HARP, 1611 SE Bybee, Intro to Medicine Making! Learn how to make tinctures, infusions and decoctions, infused oils, and salves in this hands-on workshop, and go home with some medicine, too.
Bonus freebies: Vancouver, B.C.-based urban forager Garliq Herbalista is offering a free webinar called “Connecting to the Heart of the World” from 11 a.m. to noon on Valentine’s Day.

And, the Portland Plant Medicine Gathering folks are having a winter event this Sunday. It’s free!

8 thoughts on “Regarding the Infinity of Herbal Wisdom

  1. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering problems
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  2. I just discovered this wonderful inexhaustible world myself. It’s so exciting to cross reference these plants via different herbal traditions and contemporary Western science studies of active ingredients. As someone with chronic inflammatory issues that are inadequately addressed by Western medicine, diet and traditional herbal approaches are alternative approaches that are yielding positive results for me.

    I am really drawn in by Chinese tonic herbs, and found a lot of information on Ron Teeguarden’s site –


    For Western studies, a lot of herbs are listed on Memorial Sloan Kettering’s alternative medicine site –

    For herb sourcing and more information on their website, most recommend Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene –

    For other Chinese herbs, Four Seasons is an acupuncture clinic in Santa Rosa that has what look to me like very high quality products –
    (a whacked url, don’t know what’s up with that)

    For herb seeds and plants, Horizon Herbs in Williams, OR has a good selection –

    I really liked this guy’s attitude –

    Thanks for the article!

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